Diablo House is a throwback to the days when horror anthology magazines dominated the racks, a bygone era of spooky, self-contained romps through the macabre. It draws its most direct influences from golden- and silver-age collections like House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Tales From the Crypt, and Eerie. Much like those books, Diablo House features a menacing, web-weaving narrator, though it opts to replace the likes of the Crypt Keeper with a So-Cal surf bum named Riley. A tour guide at the titular La Jolla manse, Riley delivers his tales while leading a group of visitors on a trek through the house.
The book’s art, much like its format, also calls upon the past, and the style brought by noted Spanish horror artist Santiperez imbues everything with a distinct sense of ominousness. The soft lines and feathering featured throughout its oft-unsettling scenes, paired with the lightly airbrushed coloring of Jay Fotos, gives the artwork an ethereal grimness. Each panel is packed with depth and detail, and the comparison made in the letters section of the first issue to the work of Bernie Wrightson certainly shines through. The caricatured faces of the book’s subjects feature bold, grimacing expressions that remind me of characters found in Rand Holmes’s underground cartoons of the 1960’s.
Unfortunately, the tale told by writer Ted Adams (via Riley) doesn’t quite deliver on the promise of the artwork. Between its first two issues, Diablo House has portrayed lamentable folks who enter into Faustian Pacts with the master of the house, only to end up with their souls toiling eternally in one of its countless rooms as soon as the diabolical favor bears rotten fruit. While the second issue is creepier and more unusual than the unremarkable recounting of a selfish businessman featured in the first, the yarns spun thus far in Diablo House depict circumstances that are less horror and more just plain horrible. In fact, if divorced from the context of the Diablo House and its trappings, these stories of bad people doing evil things and meeting tragic ends hold very little that’s spooky or supernatural. While I may be missing the point entirely of depicting otherwise realistic circumstances with a Satanic bent, I don’t find that witnessing the telegraphed declines of generally unlikable characters makes for a particularly compelling horror reading experience.
And while Santiperez’s artwork is decidedly one of the book’s strongest suits, I can’t help but feel that his talents aren’t being utilized to the fullest on Diablo House. Having explored some of the horrifying illustrations featured on his blog and in the various Spanish-language comics he’s drawn, I know he’s capable of something far more disturbing. Santiperez does a fantastic job of capturing the inward grotesquerie of Diablo House’s subjects through their manic, unhinged countenances, but the horror fan in me yearns for a bit more spectacle. The decision not to bring the basic conceit of the story too far into the otherworldly is clearly a deliberate one, but something about the end product stops Diablo House from being a suspenseful page-turner for me.
The nice thing about horror anthologies, though, is that the story will always be different next month. Despite these complaints, Diablo House is without a doubt a well-made book. Santiperez is a fantastic artist, and Adams is definitely capable of moving a story along. I hope that they’re able to put their heads together and come up with something a bit more gripping for the next issue. 3/5
(W) Ted Adams (A/CA) Santiperez